Wednesday, October 13, 2010

In My Footsteps: Trip 77: Marblehead, Mass.

In My Footsteps
Christopher Setterlund

Trip 77:  Marblehead, Massachusetts
September 8, 2010

            Marblehead is a one of a kind town in a one of a kind area known as the North Shore.  I have been through this town a few times and look forward to it more and more every time I visit.   The town was originally inhabited by the Naumkeag tribe of Native Americans but the people were devastated by what is believed to have been smallpox in the early 17th century.  The town got its name from early settlers who mistook the granite ledges along the shore for marble.
Marblehead Harbor
Marblehead, along with neighboring Beverly, has lay claim to being the birthplace of the United States Navy.  While both towns may have their own opinions there is no doubting the importance of Marblehead Harbor.  Beginning with the sailing of the Hannah in September, 1775, General George Washington gave orders for the first American vessels to engage the British during the American Revolution.  They were sailed and commanded by men of Marblehead and were the forerunners of the United States Navy.  Thus began the claim by the people of Marblehead that their town saw the birth of the Navy.
Crocker Park, located on the western side of the harbor includes a plaque proclaiming George Washington’s Navy to have been manned by Marbleheaders during the Revolution.  However, there is so much more to this spot than a plaque.  The view across the harbor toward Marblehead Light is amazing, especially during the summer when the harbor is filled with boats.  The park got its name from Uriel Crocker who donated the nearly three acres of land to the town in 1885.  It has the classic granite boulder clusters scattered in among the grass which gives the park a distinct North Shore feel.
I started this article by saying that Marblehead is a one of a kind town.  That being said one of the things that makes it unique can also be looked upon as a problem and that is the maze-like quality of its streets.  Don’t get me wrong, having to be very cautious and driving slowly along the twists and turns of Marblehead made it easier to see more of the historic homes which line those streets.  Still, without my trusty GPS I might have had a much more difficult time making it from Point A to Point B.
Fort Sewall
Not far from Crocker Park is the equally amazing Fort Sewall.  The fort was built in 1742 as a defense against French Cruisers and named for Samuel Sewall who was Chief Justice of Massachusetts in 1814.  It is an earthen fort much like Fort Revere in Hull and Fort Taber in New Bedford.  I enjoyed my walk around the ground for several reasons.  One was the fort itself which is built into the hill and has some furniture and other items inside the barred windows.  I cannot say for certain if those things are from the period when the fort was in use, but it was neat to see something other than empty walls.  I also enjoyed my walk around Fort Sewall thanks to a perfectly stationed set of binoculars.  These were set up in an area giving a great close up view of Marblehead Light and a more surprising view of Bakers Island Light located about five miles from Fort Sewall on the outskirts of Salem Harbor.
Abbot Hall
     Abbot Hall, which is now Marblehead Town Hall as well, is filled with historic artifacts from the area.  Located inside the brick 19th Century building sits, among other things, the original Spirit of ’76 painting by Archibald MacNeal Willard, the deed to Marblehead signed by the Naumkeag Indians in 1684, and a painting of Marbleheaders rowing George Washington across the Delaware River.  It is a beautiful building with its checkered clock tower, it is clearly visible from many places around the town and I found it a great backdrop for many photos of mine.
Marblehead Light
               As far as one of a kind sights in Marblehead there is one that stands above the others.  Standing majestically on the grounds of Chandler Hovey Park on the eastern side of the harbor is the incredible Marblehead Light, built in 1832.  Why is it so amazing?  It is the only lighthouse in New England with a skeletal structure as opposed to the classic cylindrical tower that is common.  The next lighthouse built similar to Marblehead Light is located at Coney Island in New York.  The lighthouse, which honestly looks like a disposable ink cartridge for a pen, stands tall on a cliff overlooking Marblehead Harbor, its green light visible for seven nautical miles.  It is my favorite lighthouse I have seen thus far and seem to not be able to control myself when snapping photos of it, almost like a paparazzo.
On my first trip to Marblehead Light I scaled down one of the rock faces into a sort of gully that runs down to the edge of the water and it was an incredible sight seeing Marblehead Light from down inside the rocks.  The constant crash of the waves on the rocky shore made it well worth any risk.  To enjoy this area you need not put life and limb at risk though, there are many benches and sheltered areas where one can simply sit and watch the boats entering the harbor, or just listen to the waves crashing on the rocks.  I did not attempt a repeat climb on my most recent trip, I was content just sitting on said benches and staring at the marvelous lighthouse.
A one of a kind town, Marblehead is quintessential North Shore.  It is one of my favorite places to visit for its historical significance and of course the amazing Marblehead Light.  Take your time navigating the streets but do not worry as it will only be more time spent enjoying all of the sights that this marvelous Massachusetts town has to offer.  Have fun and happy traveling!

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DirectionsChandler Hovey Park/Marblehead Light: From Rt. 1 heading north, turn right at Essex St.  Continue onto Lincoln Ave. through the rotary.  Turn right at Ballard St.  Turn left onto Rt. 107, right onto Washington Street.  Left onto Rt. 1-A, right at Ocean St., left at Metropolitan Park St., continue onto Humphrey St., continue onto Atlantic Ave.  Turn right on Ocean Ave., left onto Harbor Ave., continue onto Ocean Ave., left at Follett St.
            Crocker Park:  From Rt. 1A north continue onto Lynnway, at rotary take 2nd exit for Lynn Shore Dr.  Continue onto Ocean St., continue onto Humphrey St., continue onto Atlantic Ave., turn left at Ocean Ave.  Turn right at Pleasant St., turn right at Washington St., turn right at Darling St.  Take quick left at Front St., right at Crocker Park Ln.
            Fort Sewall:  Follow Crocker Park directions.  Once on Front Street follow it half a mile, there is parking for the fort on the left, vehicles are not allowed near the fort grounds.

            Fort Sewall - Essex

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